Alumni Spotlight: Edible Ellie!

25th March 2013 by

In the second edition of our ‘ alumni spotlight’ we’re shining our energy saving light-bulbed lamp on Tastetastic cycle tour member Ellie who has done some pretty incredible things since her tour last year- read on and be inspired!

ellie-225x300

1. What tour did you go on?

I went on the Tastetastic tour of the Scottish Borders in August 2012. It was a three week tour with no upper age limit, which is why I chose it, because (at 29) I was too old for the other tours!

2. What were your tour highs and lows?

The highs of the tour were probably the friendships made with the other tour members and meeting such amazing, creative and inspiring people. Group living can be quite intense at first but the bonds formed are so true and tight that you feel that you can conquer anything together.

The low, for me was a long awaited day off, staying at a venue with particularly basic facilities (just imagine a tap in a small woods surrounded by muddy fields and cows). It rained all day and none of us could muster the courage to venture across the huge field of mud towards civilisation. Thankfully the day was saved by my solution focused Otesha buddies and together we erected a communal shelter for us to huddle under and play games.

3. Briefly, what have you been up to since the tour?

Since the tour I have been keeping busy with writing a blog about my journey into sustainable living and setting up an organic food co-op. I have done lots of little things that I wouldn’t have done before such as joining the heritage seed library, talking to a fair trade coffee grower, joining amnesty international and opening an ethical bank account. The other main activity which has been keeping me occupied is applying to become a foster carer. This should be interesting given that we have no television and don’t shop in supermarkets. I’m sure the blog will be taking on a new angle when that starts. Most of all I am looking forward to teaching the Otesha message to our foster children for years to come.

4. Tell us a bit more the food coop and your blog

Ellie food face

My blog is www.lifeaftertesco.co.uk. It mostly covers the food aspects of sustainable living and documents momentous occasions such as my first veg box delivery. I know I’m not a great blogger but quite a few people have contacted me to say that they have tried new things after being inspired by the blog.

At the start of the blog I was researching organic food wholesalers, which, If I’m honest, was just for myself, but I soon realised that I couldn’t afford the minimum order of £325 and even if I could I didn’t have room to store it. This is when the idea of starting a food co-op became a goal. It took a while (I took a gap month to learn how to knit) but with the help of some of my friends we managed to decide how the co-op would work and how to make it socially inclusive, by omitting a membership fee and having the food delivered at a community venue. I am proud to say that we had our first delivery in February and have been enjoying some really top quality food, which we couldn’t afford to buy in the shops.

5. What impact has the Otesha tour had on you?

The Otesha Tour really changed the way I think about my personal actions. I would say that I was fairly disempowered when I came to the tour. Having spent most of my adult life working as a carer and then working in betting shops I used to think that the green movement was limited to middle class people. Even though I was interested in the issues I thought it was a group I could never join. “I would love to do more for my fellow man and the planet but I can only just afford to look after myself thank you”… I used to think. About half way through training week I realised that the only barrier to living more ethically was my own way of thinking. I stopped putting my energy into supporting unsustainable systems and started to think of ways I could make an impact where it mattered.beachgroup1

Since the tour, family members have said that the changes I am making are futile in the face of things, which is what I used to think so I try not to take it to heart. I believe that we can never know the true reach and impact of our actions, but the most obvious impact my actions have had is on the way I feel. More connected to nature, more meaning to my daily actions, more time spent in the present moment, more involved in my community.

6. Are you still involved with Otesha and how?

I am a proud member of the Otesha alumni and this group provides me with loads of information and networking opportunities. Unfortunately because I live so far away from London I feel that I have missed out on some amazing Otesha opportunities and get togethers, however I have met up with tour members since the tour and continue to stay in touch with Otesha-ites wherever they may be.Ellie and trailer negotiating stream - credit Emily Connor

7. What advice would you give to new tour members?

Ellie’s top tips to tour members would be:

· don’t take any white clothing with you whatsoever,

· don’t bother with “waterproof” shoe covers but do take waterproof socks

· Avon skin-so-soft not only repels the Scottish midge but also can be used to start a damp fire

· take lots of photos- it is a magical experience you will want to remember

· make time to play games

· take every opportunity you can to have a wash

· and most of all -keep going!- the universe has a funny way of providing you with exactly what you need at the right time and never gives you a challenge you can’t handle.

8. Describe your Otesha experience in 3 words, a picture or action:

Life. Affirming. Experience.

T South handstand at sunset - credit Emily Connor

Southern Tasty Tales

3rd September 2012 by

By Tom

Our bunch of south Scotland sustainability spreaders left the magical biodynamic woodland in search of pastures new.  Our next destination was the coastal town of Dunbar, a relatively short 20 miles down the road. Once again we had good intentions to set off bright and early, however events decided to conspire against us.

Ralph kicked off the series of mini catastrophes with a puncture just before we set off, resulting in a swift unpacking and re-packing of the bike pump. Then after just a few short miles Tom heard the twang of a snapping spoke and Hannah lost the use of several of her lower gears, which made the hills extra tricky. Our luck soon changed however and for the rest of the cycle spirits were high and the ride was smooth sailing.

Our food team made a stopover at Knowes farm shop in East Linton to stock up on supplies. Most of the produce was grown directly on the farm including seasonal vegetables and honey. They also had a fantastic labelling system, which colour coded everything by the food miles it had travelled to get to the shop.


Dunbar greeted us with our fist sight of the sea and our refuge for the coming nights- the local church hall. Stepping inside our new home after many nights under canvas was like arriving into a luxurious paradise.  Light appeared at the flick of a switch, water ran freely from the taps and excited cries of: “There’s an oven!” echoed around the walls. There was also a tank providing instant hot water; a stark contrast to the half-hour wait and gas consumption-conscious mindset of our woodland tea making facilities.

The next day we took our poorly bicycles to the wonderful Colin, owner of the local bike shop. Despite it being a Sunday and his day off, he kindly opened up especially to help or intrepid team and within a couple of hours our bikes had been nursed back to health. We cycled off with grins on our faces leaving behind a bowl of homemade rhubarb crumble for Colin’s extraordinary efforts.

Sadly we weren’t so lucky with the local food shops. Both the community bakery and greengrocers were closed, forcing us to frequent the Coop supermarket. Finding food to fit our vegan, local, low-packaged, fair-trade, organic food mandate proved a little tricky to say the least. After much contemplation and weighing up of our options we cleared the shop of unpackaged UK potatoes, found some Scottish-grown berries and came away with some vegan lasagne sheets and organic lentils.

The next morning we made amends and visited the community bakery for our breakfast bread and got some locally made jam from the Crunchy Carrot grocers. The bread was as delicious as the smells wafting from the bakery had suggested and the jam gave us some much needed energy for our first workshop of the tour.

We headed to the newly built Dunbar community centre and shortly afterwards a flock of eager looking young faces descended upon us. We gathered around in the sunshine with the 15 kids aged seven to ten and Andy enthusiastically introduced everyone and explained the wondrous work that Otesha is doing. We presented our Grow Your Own workshop, which helps to explain the importance of local and organic food. After a name game and energiser to get everyone going we ran the connections game, which looks at the importance of a healthy environment in ensuring that our food system is resilient and sustainable. Later we planted some lettuce seeds with everyone resulting in some muddy fingers but smiling faces.

For lunch our Otesha team was treated to some lovely vegetable soup. It was made in the community centre’s industrial sized kitchen using produced picked freshly from a nearby polytunnel. The kitchen is currently being used as part of a scheme to provide young people with new skills and our meal was cooked by some local teenagers who had been training there over the summer.

We were joined for food by some members of Sustaining Dunbar, a community group who aim to make Dunbar a more sustainable place to live. They have loads of exciting projects on the go including a car share scheme, community garden and the community bakery. You can read more about their projects at this blog http://www.transitionnetwork.org/stories/kerry-lane written by, Kerry, one of our cycle tour members. We all came away very enthused that such a small community could be doing so much to bring people together to help the environment.

We ended our time in Dunbar with an evening trip to the beach. We had a picnic, a game of Frisbee and a few brave souls even had an invigorating swim in the sea. The beauty of the vast empty stretches of sand and sun setting over the hills blew most, if not all of our minds.

All in all Dunbar was a very special place, full of many unexpected surprises.

Tastetastic North: Our food mandate vs the Real World

31st August 2012 by

Something every Otesha cycle tour team does at the outset of their tour is to agree its food mandate: what food we’ll buy with our shared budget and what our rotating cooking teams will prepare for the team.

It’s always an interesting discussion, but perhaps even more so on our first ever food-themed tours, because our teams had such a wealth of knowledge and experience on food sustainability.  We weren’t only trying to find common ground on people’s dietary needs and taste preferences, but also our various priorities around what makes a foodstuff sustainable or not. This is the story of Tastetastic North’s food mandate and how we managed – or failed – to abide by it.

Tastetastic North thrash out their food mandate

So here’s what we agreed on the day before we got in the saddle:

Food Mandate
(Northern Tour)

1. All grains are fine BUT prioritise buying local and organic over imported.
2. As varied as possible.
3. Go for local and organic when possible. Local over organic.
4. Packaging – Limit / avoid all plastics
5. Eggs – will use alternatives for binding. Eggs ok but separate them for those who want them
- only buy eggs when we are happy we have a close enough relationship to where they come from so we can be reasonably assured of welfare and sustainability (this could mean a farm shop or chatting to a local shopkeeper who knows the supplying farmer)
6. No meat or fish… except in waste food / donations, for those happy to eat it (but not cooking or preparing it with the group meal); no meat or fish bought from the group budget but ok from members’ personal budgets
7. Dairy – When donated, consumption is left to personal choice, as with meat or eggs; not bought with the group budget; goats’ milk / cheese treated like eggs
8. Honey – same as eggs
9. Avoid supermarkets where possible

So how did we do?

Well, we didn’t start too well, to be honest.  On our first (mammoth) cycle ride day, from Penicuik to Burntisland, the cycle team of Chloe, James and Gavin were still a good few miles from their destination, the hour was late and we had run out of trail mix (the amazing nuts and seeds concoctions that keep our legs turning on the road). We needed fuel for the miles ahead, so we headed for Inverkeithing’s Scot-Mid supermarket (a supermarket! failure number one) as it was the only shop open. This had no local fruit at all except Perthshire strawberries.  A success? Not quite – they were packaged in plastic and were “conventionally grown”, a weasly phrase that means agriculture using pesticides and oil-derived fertilisers (not at all ‘conventional’ in the history of agriculture). This felt pretty awful, but at this stage we had to prioritise the welfare of the cycling team arriving in one piece, so we bought them.  This was the first indication of the dilemmas and reality checks we’d be faced with pretty often.

Meanwhile, the day 1 cooking team – whose job it is to buy ingredients for dinner and the next day’s breakfast and lunch – were on the hunt for mandate-friendly food in Edinburgh, having been held up by 2 punctures, a broken spoke, an exploding lighter, a choking incident and a dog-chase. They weren’t quite prepared for the lack of local and organic food available from a health food shop and the local shops on Argyle Road. They had a lot of difficulty finding local produce that wasn’t plastic-packaged – and had to widen the definition of ‘local’ to mean ‘UK’. A lot of Scottish mushrooms were bought. Most of the UK-produced salad was packaged in plastic, so the team went for European-produced, unwrapped food. The most local dried good they could find was French cous cous.

Rolling in to Burntisland in Fife so late at night, the cooking team were on their last legs, so an emergency portion of chips saw them to bed and the ingredients went instead into a fantastic breakfast of garlic and parsley mushrooms the next day – our first sit-down meal together, tastebud-friendly if not mandate-friendly.

And, mandate-wise, things did start looking up in Burntisland.  Frank, one of the stalwarts working Broomhill Community Garden, presented us with an abundance of cabbage, potatoes and the biggest kohlrabi we’d ever seen – you can’t get more local or unpackaged than that.  Sarah Stuart, from the FairTrade ‘Food for Thought’ deli on the high street, also gave us some shortbread (made in Fife), tea and veggie burger mix that would be going out of date later in the month, which was incredibly kind of her – and made a little dent in our world’s huge food waste problem.

Broomhill Gardens

Food for Thought deli and cafe

In Burntisland we also enjoyed an amazing lunch of garlic soup and veggie burgers laid on by Lisa from the Fife Diet – almost entirely locally grown within Fife, and much of it plucked fresh from the ground.

Other fantastic gifts included food donations from Cheyne’s of Newburgh, who were big cycling fans and wouldn’t hear of taking our money (thank you!), the incredible Brian, whose Cupar house had a true garden of delights (peaches! justaberries! honey!) and some beautiful purple potatoes from the Busy Bees Nursery garden (thanks, Andrea). [And thanks to Sustainable Cupar for arranging that inspiring day.]

Moving on to the Pillars of Hercules organic farm in Falkland, also in Fife, we had the luxury of using the Pillars farm shop, so didn’t have to go far at all for our ingredients.  However, it’s not been a great harvest year in the UK due to the weather, so it was a bit disappointing to find a fairly large proportion of produce from overseas for sale.  It was, though, at least clearly labelled – and even on our till receipts items were marked ‘Food grown here’!  My cooking team, the Hitch Witches (“Turtle brain to banish rain! Porridge dregs to strengthen legs! Special pills to get up hills!  Cackle cackle…”) went even more local (and cheaper) by making a foraged salad of sorrel and linden leaves, with Pillars-grown cucumber and radish, to go with our spelt pancakes and beetroot’n'greens filling. Definitely a food mandate success.  On another day in Falkland we had even more fun foraging – following a path up to a local waterfall, we managed to fill a tupperware tub with wild raspberries – an amazing Scottish speciality.

Here are some other comments from the team on how they coped with the food mandate vs real world problem:

One of the most exciting discoveries we’ve made over the past week was a greengrocer in Cupar, Fife. This shop was ridiculously well-stocked with fresh produce from England and Scotland. It helpfully stated where each of the different vegetables and fruits had been grown, the country of origin being proudly declared on an almost equal footing with the name of produce.  This kind of labelling is difficult to find in supermarkets and my local grocer.

Despite (or because of?) the restrictions of the food mandate, we ate incredibly well – and healthily

 

Such variety of British veg meant that we were able to create two tasty main meals from the choice. My favourite purchases were purple cauliflowers and tasty butternut squashes. It was great to realise that UK produce can be so varied and delicious.

On the other hand…

One aspect of our food mandate that we have consistently failed on is plastic packaging. It is nigh on impossible to buy a varied selection for a healthy and nutritional diet without accumulating ridiculous levels of plastic. In addition to the presumption that every purchase in a shop warrants a fresh plastic bag, often fresh produce will come compartmentalised in order to make it easier to pick up, to keep it ‘clean’ and to ‘preserve freshness’.   I thought mainly buying local produce might eliminate such needs, but it would appear that patterns and habits are hard to break.

In order to avoid all plastics in your food shopping habits, you need to ensure that you prepare and plan, and have easy enough access to shops that cater for people who have that agenda (such as ‘Unpackaged’ in London).  Is this easy for most people?  Certainly not!  How are we to overcome our misuse of plastic?

Here are some other reflections from the team as our tour was coming to an end:

  • The first day was the most difficult. But we were very inspired by the Fife Diet’s 80-20 ambition [some members try to have 80% of what they eat grown in Fife and 20% from elsewhere, allowing you to keep your luxuries like coffee and chocolate]. It was realistic and doable. I think we did really well on the food mandate, but talking at schools brought home how we’re in a bit of a bubble, particularly seeing some of the school dinners’ veggie options.  I’d like to have had more practice communicating our food mandate to people, as I feel it was miscommunicated sometimes. In shops I felt were looked at as naive idealists sometimes.

One of the cooking teams at work – this is how we cooked most days on tour, Pachamama was our ktichen…

  • I felt shock at the realisation of how you can assume that because you’re in a local grocer’s that the food is local. You need to be vigilant, reading labels and being picky and aware.  And we were faced with the reality of the supermarkets and the minimal options some places have. But there was such excitement when we did find a great shop with great produce – it could be out there and it is possible.  And we found that once we explained what we were doing, people were excited and got behind it.

  • It was difficult to have to make a choice between organic vs local sometimes. In Cupar there was a great selection of UK produce but it wasn’t organic. In Pillars it was organic but often not from the UK. Our mandate chose to prioritise local over organic, but if we did it again I might prioritise differently – isn’t freighting food by road as intensive as shipping? And isn’t it good to support organic farming wherever it is in the world because it’s not industrial farming? I don’t have the answers but I want to explore it further.  My gut says to go with organic European over non-organic UK produce. But then there is the labelling issue: some small farmers just can’t afford organic certification.

  • I felt we slipped on the food mandate and our priorities were warped over time. For example, we went to Morrison’s in Falkirk! I think we thought about it less as time went on. But it was a very valuable experience for putting principles to the test. It was good practice for returning home and for life afterwards in your own local area. I liked that we had flexibility for individuals, and that it caused me to try different grains I wasn’t even aware of.

The luxury of cooking in an ACTUAL KITCHEN when we reached Edinburgh

  • We were forced to cut out what we might once have treated as ‘necessities’, such as ginger. It was easier to stick to the mandate knowing that it was only for three weeks, of course.

So were we just head-in-the-clouds idealists who hadn’t been living in the real world?  Well, yes and no.  The mandate really is an ideal-world guide to be met as closely as possible, but not intended to be a whip to beat yourself with when you fail (my defence on Morrison’s is that our local host assured us there was not a single local veg shop in Falkirk, it was getting late, we didn’t know what shops lay ahead and there would be nine very hungry to people to feed within a few hours…).

We live in a world, and within a perverse food system, where you can find your efforts to do good for people and planet are scuppered at every turn. Ever tried to buy organic Fairtrade bananas?  You’ll generally find them plastic-wrapped.  Or, as we found, you set out to support your local producer but find their goods are not organic – but the Spanish equivalent are. What to do? The problem is multiplied when you’re on the road. At home it’s possible to spend time sourcing the shops that come close to ticking all the boxes, or to get a veg box, but it takes time, research and often relationship-building.  As a troupe of cyclists passing through, this is much harder.

All in all, personally I’m really proud of what we achieved under really unusual circumstances.  And most importantly, our failures were tremendous learning opportunities – as were the conversations the mandate sparked along the way – both amongst ourselves and the people we met.  I think we’d all recommend trying to agree a food mandate for yourself, your family or your household – it really makes for mindful consumption, and will reveal things about our food system that will both disappoint and inspire.  Let us know how you get on.

Tastetastic South 1 : Hills 0

25th August 2012 by


Bonjour, Guten Tag from the French-German connection of the Tastetastic Southern Tour live from the beautiful rainy Cumbria (England!). We are deeply sorry that this won’t be more multilingual but we had to step back in consensus decision making process and accept English as the dominant language. Donc this blog entry will be in English ;-)

Welcome to Fairyland….

Over the last few days a happy bunch of cyclists managed to get through the dangerous and hilly Scottish Borders thanks to many fairies along the way. Magic pastries created by the fairies of the Dunbar cooperative community bakery, which was set up by Sustaining Dunbar, helped us power all the way to Westruther (once we were set free by the very knowledgeable fairy Mark who told us stories about local wind farms, landfills and nuclear power stations). Soon after having left the caring Dunbar fairies and after an impressive thunder, we were welcomed by more of them in Westruther. The local fairies kindly offered us the village hall as our shelter and soon we met many nice and interesting and curious little pixies at Westruther Primary School and taught them about fair-trade and food production.  As a final goodbye to the wee town of Westruther we spent a night of festivities in Angie’s local pub next to a heart-warming firewood, playing pool, the ukulele and singing songs.  Our charming landlady fairy finally offered us some yummy mange-tout which nearly gave us enough strength to cycle to the far far away Headshaw Farm next to Hawick passing via lovely Midlem where we were lucky to experience local Scottish hospitality…

Indeed, the big hairy hill fairy nearly attempted to kill our entire team by putting a massive hill at the entrance of our 5 star hotel in Headshaw Cottage… Comfy beds and hot showers were waiting for us but it was not long before we all had to jump out of our sleeping bags and cycle for more than 10 miles in the worst weather that the angry Scottish Gods could have created. All of our happy jolly team landed in St Margaret’s RC Primary School looking more than soaked but, the great pupils and teachers’ fairies helped us recover our positive spirits and deliver our 4 fun and informative workshops about energy, fair-trade, grow your own and transport. We final ly paid a visit to the marvellous and generous bike fairy Julian, from Borders Cycles, who took a lot of his time to repair all of our unhappy bikes… Thanks again!

With another good night’s sleep in the comfy cottage, new knowledge about passive houses and heat pumps and the feeling of having made a difference to the local primary school in Hawick we set off towards Low Luckens Organic Resource Centre in Cumbria, England. Unfortunately the local bike fairies were on holiday that morning and after an hour of punctures and little bike troubles we were saved again by our faithful bicycle fairy Julian at Borders Cycles in Hawick, we can only recommend him!  With lots of enthusiasm, a smart cow distraction fairy from Cambridgeshire to clear congested country roads, many fairies among us to push the trailers up many hills and brilliant cake fairies in the local teashop in Newcastleton, we reached a beautiful woodland camping ground next to grazing cows at Low Luckens. Now we’re ready to reach more youth with our sustainability workshops and eager to learn about the Organic Resource Centre…

A bientôt und bis bald

(Coraline & Ralph)

Tastetastic North – an odyssey through disaster to sustainable food inspiration!

20th August 2012 by

The first leg of our journey was a tale of broken spokes, an epic ride and inspirational people and projects working to make food work better for people and planet. Harley and Chloe take up the tale…

After reluctantly leaving the Southern team with a heartfelt hug-line, Tastetastic North embarked on their first adventure… Burntisland via Edinburgh.

The journey did not go to plan to say the least. Each group encountered numerous setbacks, delaying the journey by around seven hours. With a total of four punctures, including a trailer tyre, we persevered, spurred on by the promise of a warm night in St. Serf’s church hall and the amazing experience of cycling across the Forth Road Bridge – wow.

We finally arrived late at night, despite a broken spoke, an exploding lighter, a Heimlich manoeuvre incident, a wild dog chase, a moment of sexist oppression (“You boys should be fixing that lassie’s puncture for her” – “I can do it myself!”), multiple wrong turns (though we were saved by Sandra in Edinburgh – thank you!), and a somewhat difficult mud track.

Luckily, we were revived by a well deserved good night’s sleep, and we were ready to get stuck into our first day’s work at Broomhill Gardens. With the sun blazing down, we started mulching, weeding, and tackling the giant compost heap, with help from Lisa, Ellie and John, members of Fife Diet.

We learned more about this amazing project over lunch with founders Mike and Karen Small, who shared their inspiring story of attempting to radically change their diet to eat only food grown in Fife… for a whole year! After experiencing certain challenges, they decided on another target: 80/20, meaning 80% of their food came from Fife and the remaining 20% was non-local.

Their experiment catalysed the Fife Diet project, and soon people from around ‘the kingdom’ were joining them. The project has not only had an impact on consumer habits, but has also affected food production, broadening the range of local products to include, for example, beer and cheese.

Ellie, our fantastic Fife diet host, helped explain more about the range of projects around Fife, like kids’ allotment days, the Fife Diet recipe books, and their great calendar with seasonal growing and eating tips.

During our stay, we were treated to some lovely local ingredients which, with help from Lisa, we assembled into delicious recipes from the Fife diet website, including garlic soup, broad bean burgers and cranachan.

In Burntisland we met loads of welcoming and generous people, and received donations of delicious veg from Lynn’s Fruit and Veg, Frank, and tasty treats from the Food for Thought cafe. Food waste is a massive problem (there is enough food wasted to feed the world’s one billion hungry people), so we have been politely asking whether food outlets along our route have food that is too past-it to sell but still edible and nutritious. A massive thank you to all the people who have listened and responded with generosity, which also includes Cheyne’s of Newburgh, where we stopped a few days later.

Tasty Tales from the south-bound bunch

14th August 2012 by

Once upon a time in a land farrr far away (well, in the Scottish lowlands that is), there lived a group of 20 intrepid young adventurers. They had come from far and wide to learn about local food production, to support Scottish farmers and to share skills for building a brighter future. High up on the plains of Mid Lothian, Macbiehill Farm stood ready to accept these eager young change-makers. Bread-makers Andrew and Veronica filled both their minds and their bellies to the brim, and before long they were ready to hit the road and spread their newfound knowledge. So, they split into two, one group bound for the rugged North, the other for the hilly South.

This is a tale of what befell that South-bound bunch…

Kerry, Ralph, Claire, Coraline, Tom, Hannah, Andy, Emily and Ellie packed up their tents, stretched out their dormant muscles and filled their lunch boxes, set for a day in the saddle. Out on the open road, their faithful bicycle steeds sparkled in the sunlight as they set a path for Pishwanton Woods. That night would be their first one under the stars away from their guides, and they were keen to set up camp in good time, having found food along the way.

However… Unbeknownst to the group, the mischievous scourge of all two-wheeled wonderers – the Google-Ro ute-Planner – had some tricks up his sleeve to torment the young cyclists. It fooled them into believing they only had 16 miles to go on their first cycle day, knowing all along that really they would actually have more than 35 miles to go! That mischevious young techno-tool rubbed his hands together and sat back to watch the confusion ensue.

By midday the cyclists had come to realise that all was not as it seemed. 14 miles had already passed, and they were not even half way through their mapped route … But their spirits were not to be dampened, and as the sun shone brighter so did their smiles!

Now, as we all know, no fairy tale is complete without either its castles or its wicked witches, and we would not want to disappoint! So, the food-finders bravely set a course for the rough and remote Oxenfoord Castle, deep in the heart of Pathead. Reaching the gates of the encampment, they strained their eyes through the thick trees, and there on top of a hill across a great bridge stood the giant stone strong-hold. Warily, the group wheeled across the bridge and all of a sudden they were greeted by a shrill cry from high up in the turrets. “Oi! What are you doing here, what do you want!?” Their eyes widened with fear as a menacing old woman bellowed down at them. “Ummmm, errrrr, eeeehhhhh… we’re looking for food. Do you know where we can find Oxenfoord Organics?” An outstretched finger pointed in the direction of the castle gardens, and the group turned tail and were off back up the driveway in a flash.

As they rounded the corner the path was blocked by a gate with a giant CLOSED sign swinging in the wind. But they would not be stopped by such a miniscule obstacle, and – with the help of a kindly old garden spirit (locally known as Ted) – they heaved open the gate and ventured into a field filled with polytunnels. There they met a kindly young man named Peter and his family, who happily filled two boxes full of fresh vegetables and homemade jams, happy to have the custom during such difficult times.

Back on the road, the team threw all they had into the last few miles, and finally the green expanse of Pishwanton woods appeared on the horizon. Up and down, up and down, through fields and hills and valleys they went, picking raspberries and singing songs along the way. Finally they pulled up to the woods, jumped down from their steeds and set up camp to prepare a delicious feast of Vegetable Wiffwaff. Yummmmmm!

A long day’s adventuring was finally at an end, and they crawled in to their tents, dreaming before their heads hit the pillows.

At 8am the next day, the wake-up fairy sounded his bell, and they all rolled out of their tents, energised and ready for a new day in a new place. They soon discovered that mysterious woods in which they found themselves was home to The Pishwanton Project, and held the learnings of a great wizard named Rudolf Steiner, who was a very powerful philosopher at the turn of the 20th century. Steiner’s teachings inspired a whole new model of food production and farming, known as Biodynamics. As well as being totally organic, biodynamic small-holdings are run as living organisms and draw upon the wisdom of the stars and planets to nurture plant development.

Once the group had absorbed all of this worldy wisdom, Margaret the matron of the woods whipped them out of their seats and in to the fields to spend the rest of the day building compost heaps and weeding the land for future generations of plants and wildlife to thrive in that magical place.

That night, after a dinner of scrumptious curry and salad, all 9 young volunteers finally crashed in to their beds – stomachs full, brains whirring, and the smell of soil firmly set in to their palms – satisfied with a hard-day’s work and ready to move on to pastures anew.

Who knows what challenges the next days would hold for the brave bunch, but it was sure to be filled with tasty treats and lavish learnings one way or the other.

Will they live happily ever after? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

To be continued…

Tasty Tales – Bread Matters

8th August 2012 by

Hello!

Welcome to the second blog post of the Tastetastic food sustainability tour! We write to you from the magnificent Scottish Borders, a land of beautiful rolling green hills, many happy sheep, and an enthusiastic bunch of foodie cyclists, who have come from far and wide to embark on a 3 week Otesha extravaganza.

We started our tour in sunny Edinburgh, our first task being to cycle en masse through the capital and navigate our way to our first host – Bread Matters – who have kindly welcomed us to their home on Macbiehill Farm for our five days of pre-tour training.

Bread Matters, in Peeblesshire, provides weekend courses teaching people about the importance of slow fermentation, a traditional method of making nutritional and tasty bread. Recently, industrial bread-making techniques have arguably led to a rise in many health problems such as wheat intolerance and other digestive ailments. Bread Matters is seeking to educate people about the benefit of Real Bread – better bread for individuals, communities and the planet.

Bread Matters has been a great place to start our tour, as it is an example of a local initiative that is building a vibrant (and resistant) local food economy. The founders of Bread Matters have grown varieties of wheat (and other grains), and processed it by gently milling on a small scale. The flour that is produced is crafted into beautiful bread, and this bread is sold locally through innovative community-oriented distribution networks. This approach to local food is a ‘message’ that we hope to take with us on tour, to inspire a new generation to become more engaged with where their food comes from, and how it’s produced, as well as forging community ties through the sharing of nutritional, wholesome food.

During our time on Macbiehill Farm, we have been thrown into a whirlwind of learning workshops, thought-provoking discussions, scrumptious vegan food, and (perhaps most importantly) sowing the seeds to build our own tastetastic community. As a group, we have shared our stories, experiences, knowledge, and values with each other. There’s also been lots and lots of laughter (and some tears, too). Not to mention, being treated to use the most LUXURIOUS compost loo EVER! Courtesy of Andrew and Veronica of Bread Matters.

It’s really hard to believe that we are only 4 days into the Otesha experience – it’s as if a magic spell has been cast to temporarily stretch out space and time, with everyone happily saturated with ideas, excitement and positive energy.

This is just the beginning, and everyone is itching to get on the road, get cycling up more hills (!!) and start putting into practice everything we’ve been preparing for during training week. (But first, we are spending a vigorous afternoon tending to the small-scale agro-forestry project at Bread Matters, as a work exchange to thank our generous hosts).

Are we ready? Yes we are!

PS. A massive thank you to Amy and her team for spending 2+ hours sharing with us how to love our bikes (and maintain them).

Tasty Tales – The Journey Begins

6th August 2012 by

Thursday 3rd Augst

Tupperware Feast

It’s so very nearly begun! After two weeks of learning and sorting in the Otesha office in London we (Kerry and Tamsin, tour liaisons) are pretty much ready to go. We have a day off tomorrow to sort out our personal stuff and then we will be setting off with a group trailer each on the train to Scotland!

So what do the next three weeks have in store? Well we will be cycling around central and southern Scotland with 18 other people, walking (or pedalling) the sustainability talk, learning lots about sustainable food, spreading the Otesha love and inspiring young people through a variety of workshops to change their world. This is the first ever three week tour and there are so many wonderful pedallers on it that we are going to be cycling on two different routes so we can reach even more people. Half of the group will be heading North around Fife and then back down south of Glasgow and the other half are going to the south, through the Borders, even dipping a toe into Cumbria before heading back up to the Clyde Valley.

Our food workshop in action

 

So in the last two weeks we have been photocopying maps, planning routes, phoning up everyone else on the tour to check how they are getting on, making a routebinder with all of the whens and wheres of the tour and all of the nearest facilities and double and triple checking the group trailers with all of the cooking, workshop and bike equipment in. We have also been learning about bike maintenance, working in schools & our tour liaison responsibilities on tour. All very important and every little bit brings the tour a bit nearer and convinces us that it really is happening! Now we are ready and raring to go, let us at that open road…

Starting as we mean to go on

26th April 2012 by

Before every Otesha bike tour,  members gather for a training week. Aside from offering a chance to meet fellow change makers (and start lasting friendships) it is a time to prepare for what’s ahead, forging a strong team to bring real, lasting change wherever they ride to. It’s a bit like starting a day with a hearty breakfast.

For me, training week was a real buzz because it confirmed that I had made the right decision in signing up for an Otesha tour - a choice that was going to be a real catalyst for positive change in my life and outlook. We began with practicalities – first up was bike maintenance. I soon learnt my Dad’s ‘technique’ was way over generous when oiling chains and I was shown punctures really don’t take 3 attempts to stick (as well as tips to avoid them in the first place). Workshop completed, I was confident and able to maintain and safety check my bike. A further session on group riding shared best practice of how to ride as a group safely on the road.

That done, we moved on to discussions and workshops on sustainability, group living and consensus decision making. Being able to speak openly and contribute fully to discussions and decisions enabled the group to respond positively to any situation. Early on, I felt consensus decision making could take an age – but once the ground rules and hand signals were in place, each decision was explored fully and consensus was soon reached. Any extra time taken was easily paid off by knowing it the group was behind the decision, everyone has had a chance to contribute and importantly, that the right action had been taken. Writing our food mandate was the first real test of the teams consensus decision making skills.. the mandate acknowledges the fact that the food we eat has wider impacts, and also that different people have different needs with the food they eat. We shared opinions, practicalities and debated issues before agreeing on a a mandate that would dictate what the team ate for the weeks ahead.

Then began the rehearsals. I am no actor. When my friends heard I was going to be  in a play, they were eager to see me to perform – if only to confirm that I am not an actor. Luckily a role in an Otesha play simply requires enthusiasm, a sense of humour and a bit of bravery –  no sonnets, monologues or dramatic stage falls required (except when making the Banana Pirate walk the plank).

This year, the tours are starting from suitably inspirational places. Walking the talk is a core part of our ethos, and so we’re happy to be hosted by projects with shared values.

For Western Quest, the tour will be hosted deep within the beautiful Wye Valley, at Highbury Farm. It is the home of Stepping Stones – a Co-operative inspired by a vision of finding ecological and socially sustainable ways of living together as a community. At the moment they are exploring ways to manage the land without the exploitation of animals. As the site is reliant on a spring for water we will see how important saving water is, especially relevant as much of the UK remains in drought.

For our food themed tour - Tastetastic, we are being kindly hosted by the folks at Breadmatters. They passionately champion the lost practice of home baked bread through workshops, books and by producing some fantastic bread. To say Thank You, we’re planning to build a solar dryer to dry produce from their small holding without consuming electricity. Excellent!

By demonstrating the best of sustainable innovation with practical and positive steps, our hosts will provide a perfect base from to launch this summer of change making tours.

If you or someone you know wants to saddle up and change the world then applications are still open – see the Cycle Tours page. or email us at cycletours@otesha.org.uk.


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